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Pope asks for forgiveness for Christian divisions

By editor - 27 January, 2016

Pope Francis greets members of the Lutheran World Federation (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis greets members of the Lutheran World Federation (Photo: CNS)

Courtesy: Vatican Radio

Pope Francis asked for ‘mercy and forgiveness’ for the way Christians have behaved towards each other at an ecumenical celebration of Vespers on Monday evening to mark the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, the Pope said Christians cannot let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate their relationships.

The Pontiff focused on the need for divided Christian communities to walk together in the way of the Lord, in the knowledge that unity is a gift of heaven and in the understanding that all service rendered to the cause of the one Gospel builds up the one true Church and gives glory to the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

“While we journey together towards full communion,” the Pope said, “we can begin already to develop many forms of cooperation in order to favour the spread of the Gospel – and walking together, we become aware that we are already united in the name of the Lord.”

As Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis said he wanted “to ask for forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches” which has not reflected Gospel values.

He also invited Catholics to forgive if they – today or in the past – have been offended by other Christians.

“In this extraordinary jubilee year of mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy,” he said.

“God’s mercy will renew our relationships,” he assured.

Pope Francis told representatives of the other Christian Churches and communities present in the Basilica that progress on the path to full visible communion can be made “not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord”.

At the start of Vespers, the Pope invited Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, to walk with him through the Holy Door of the Basilica, while at the end of the celebration he invited them to join him in giving the final blessing.

Separately, it has been confirmed that Pope Francis will travel to Sweden in October for a joint ecumenical commemoration of the start of the Reformation, together with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation and representatives of other Christian Churches.

The event will take place on 31 October in the southern Swedish city of Lund where the Lutheran World Federation was founded in 1947.

While kicking off a year of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it will also highlight the important ecumenical developments that have taken place during the past 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans.

The commemoration in Lund follows on directly from the publication in 2013 of a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’, which focuses on the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness.

While asking for forgiveness for the divisions of past centuries, it also seeks to showcase the gifts of the Reformation and celebrate the way Catholics and Lutherans around the world work together on issues of common concern.

Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev Dr Martin Junge will lead the ecumenical commemoration in cooperation with the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.

“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability,” LWF General Secretary Rev Dr Martin Junge said.

“I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”

Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) explained that, “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

“It is with joy and expectation that the Church of Sweden welcomes the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church to hold the joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund,” Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén said.

“We shall pray together with the entire ecumenical family in Sweden that the commemoration will contribute to Christian unity in our country and throughout the world.”

“The ecumenical situation in our part of the world is unique and interesting. I hope that this meeting will help us look to the future so that we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ and His gospel in our secularised world,” Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of the Catholic Church in Sweden stated.

The Lund event is part of the reception process of the study document ‘From Conflict to Communion’, which was published in 2013, and has since been widely distributed to Lutheran and Catholic communities.

The document is the first attempt by both dialogue partners to describe together at international level the history of the Reformation and its intentions.

The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which most significant is the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of justification (JDDJ).

The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006.

The declaration nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.

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